Emory Report
January 14, 2008
Volume 60, Number 15

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January 14, 2008
Can offsets help state go green?

By Carol Clark

Emory is taking the lead in developing models for the first carbon-offset projects in Georgia, working with the R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Foundation and a team of experts drawn from state agencies, environmental groups and local corporations.

“The Southeast, and particularly Georgia, is one of the areas most in need of investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects,” says Ciannat Howett, director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives. “Georgia has one of the highest rates of per-capita energy use in the country, and we don’t have major programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy sponsored by our utility or the kind of incentives provided by many other states.”

Last July, the Office of Sustainability Initiatives recruited Susan Kidd as the first R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Sustainability Scholar-in-Residence at Emory, and assigned her to research the feasibility of carbon offsets in the state. A former senior vice president of the Georgia Conservancy, Kidd has 25 years experience managing advocacy and education programs. Her study concluded that Georgia has a unique combination of elements that make it an ideal place to establish and manage carbon-offset programs.

“Now that we have answered the question that it can be done in Georgia, we are looking into the question of how we can influence the creation of the highest standard of carbon-offset projects that could benefit local communities both economically and environmentally,” Kidd says.

Carbon offsets strive to counterbalance greenhouse-gas emissions in one place by reducing emissions somewhere else.

As Emory investigates ways to shrink its carbon footprint, its first priority is energy efficiency. Emory already leads all other universities in the nation in its total square footage of green building space certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system, and it is conducting an energy audit of existing building space to identify additional energy savings. Even with strong energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, many organizations — including Emory — would need to purchase carbon offsets in order to be “carbon neutral.” The current carbon offsets market is controversial, with many people questioning the validity of the offset claims. Emory hopes its research will advance the national conversation.

Georgia’s multiple ecosystems, temperate climate and nutrient-poor soils make it an especially good environment for sequestration of carbon by plants and trees, Kidd says.

Some Georgia corporations have invested in carbon-offset projects operating in other states and countries, due to the lack of local alternatives. If high-quality projects were available in their own backyard, local organizations would be more likely to invest in them, since local projects would allow for more oversight and accountability, Kidd says.

“Georgia is ripe for ‘homegrown’ solutions to the challenge of carbon offsets,” she says.
In the coming months, Kidd will work on recommendations for specific pilot projects. She will continue to get input from the team of experts assisting Emory, including representatives from the R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Foundation, Clean Air-Cool Planet, the University of Georgia, Southface Energy Institute, Interface Inc., the World Resources Institute and various state agencies.